Oscar Piastri won the Qatar Sprint Race after a brilliant drive, but the star on Saturday night at the Lusail International Circuit was Max Verstappen who sealed his third Formula 1 Championship.
Although Piastri’s win does not count as a grand prix win in the history books, it doesn’t take anything away from the McLaren rookie who drove a great Sprint to finish first.
The start was not a good one for Verstappen, with anti-stall kicking in and ruining his start, while being on Medium tyres compared to George Russell, Carlos Sainz, and Charles Leclerc on Softs put him on the back foot and he dropped back to fifth.
But the Dutchman fought his way back to take second amid three Safety Car periods, but he did not have enough laps to deny Piastri the win.
Piastri also had to work hard to get the win, as he lost the lead to Russell after the first restart, but kept his cool and chased the #63 Mercedes down to retake the lead, and from then kept Verstappen at bay.
Lando Norris who started from second on the grid, also dropped down at the start as his Mediums did not offer the same grip as the Softs the drivers around him had, but fought his was to take third and make McLaren result even sweeter with a double podium.
Behind the top three came the Mercedes pair, Russell in fourth and Lewis Hamilton in fifth, the seven-time F1 Champion starting the Sprint from 12th on the grid.
Sainz was sixth for Ferrari while his teammate Leclerc followed him home in seventh, as Fernando Alonso took the final point finishing eighth.
Verstappen: A fantastic feeling
Reflecting on winning his third F1 Title in a row, Verstappen said: “It’s a fantastic feeling. Been an incredible year. Lots of great races, super proud of the job from the team. It’s been so enjoyable to be part of that group of people.
“To be a three-time world champion is just incredible. We will keep on pushing, doing the best we can.
“Today was quite an exciting race, a bit of a shame with the Safety Cars, but overall it was fun out there. Just incredibly happy at the moment,” the Triple F1 Champion concluded.
On the cool down lap, Red Bull boss Christian Horner radioed Verstappen: “Max you are a three-time world champion. That’s unbelievable. Incredible year for you.”
Verstappen replied: “Yeah unbelievable guys. I don’t know what to say. Thank you for providing me with such a car. It’s been a lot of fun this year.
“I just want to say a big thank you to everyone here at the track and back at the factory, putting all the effort in.
“To be able to achieve something like this, I can’t thank you all enough. Besides all the performance related stuff, it’s just really enjoyable to work with you all. That’s the most important thing at the end,” Verstappen maintained.
Piastri: A very stressful race
One must feel for Piastri, as despite him winning his for the first time in F1, the fact that Verstappen sealed the Title on the same day somehow stole the spotlight from him.
But the Australian driver was a worthy winner, and elated after his result, he said: “Very happy!
“A very stressful race,” he went on. “When I saw all the soft [tyre] guys come through at the start I thought we were in a bit of trouble. But their tyres fell of pretty quickly, so that was good.
“The Safety Cars were my friend today once Max got behind me but the pace was reasonable and in the race where you had to manage a lot, the tyres, cars on other compounds, we did a good job.
“When he [Verstappen] got threw to second I thought I was going to be in a bit of trouble, but the pace was good. First Sprint win sounds pretty cool,” Piastri concluded.
Third-placed Norris added: “First of all congrats to Oscar and Max. A tough race for me, just a bad start. It made everything a lot trickier but we fought back well, some fun racing and good overtakes all the way to the last lap.
“Tough. But another podium for us, so as a team it’s been a mega day. Not the best of beginnings but a good ending,” he added.
How the Sprint unraveled
The start saw the drivers with Soft tyres launch an attack on the front row starters, and while Piastri managed to keep his lead, Norris and Verstappen lost out and dropped down to sixth and fifth respectively.
Russell, Sainz, and Leclerc on the other hand were second third and fourth respectively by the end of the first lap.
The Safety Car was soon in to give the marshals a chance to retrieve the beached AlphaTauri of Liam Lawson who simply lost control and ended up in the gravel trap, game over.
SAFETY CAR DEPLOYED (LAP 1/19)
Liam Lawson is off in the gravel at Turn 2 and out of the Sprint 😩
Alonso further back overtook Ocon and regained seven and set out chasing Norris who was sixth.
Russell up front started to build up a gap, and posted the fastest lap by Lap 8, but Piastri soon responded going faster as the Medium tyres entered their ideal operating window.
Verstappen as well started pushing Leclerc and made quick work of him to take fourth and set his sights on Sainz for third.
By Lap 10, Verstappen was past Sainz and in third, his next victim, Piastri in second and less than three seconds ahead.
The order by Lap 10: Russell – Piastri – Verstappen – Sainz – Leclerc – Norris – Alonso – Ocon.
By Lap 11 Piastri was all over Russell, and quickly passed him and retook the lead, while Norris further back overtook Leclerc for fifth with a brilliant move on the outside of Turn 1.
By the end of Lap 11, as Ocon and Hulkenberg were fighting for position with Perez watching, Ocon turned on on Hulkenberg who was sandwiched between the Frenchman and the Mexican, and while the Haas driver managed to get back on the track after a brief run in the gravel, Ocon ended up collecting the hapless Perez ending both their races.
The German driver head back to the pits and retired his Haas.
As things stood, Verstappen was officially the trip F1 World Champion as Perez will not be able to score any points.
The Safety Car ended on Lap 14, the order: Piastri – Russell – Verstappen – Sainz – Norris – Leclerc – Alonso – Hamilton.
Just before the Safety Car was over, Verstappen was warned by his engineer to forget about the win and just focus on bringing the #1 RB19 home.
With five laps to go, the race was on again, and Verstappen set out to chase Russell, while Leclerc retook fifth from Norris and chased down Sainz for fourth.
Hamilton who lost a position on the restart to Gasly was trying to regain eighth, the last point-scoring position.
Up front Verstappen took second from Russell by Lap 16, and drove away trying to chase Piastri with less the three laps remaining.
But Piastri was not going to make life easy for the Red Bull driver, and kept pumping in the fast laps keeping the gap in the two-second region.
In the final lap, Norris overtook Russell for third, while Hamilton was up to sixth passing Leclerc and chasing Sainz for fifth, as the Soft tyres on the Ferraris were done. Hamilton eventually took fifth.
But up front, Verstappen ran out of laps and had to settle for second place behind the impressive Piastri, but it didn’t matter, his third F1 Crown was sealed!
After the race, a pair of five-second time penalties were dished out by the FIA stewards in the last few minutes for excessive track limit breaches. One involved Leclerc, who had finished seventh but dropped out of the points as a result.
Thus Williams’ Alex Albon was promoted to seventh and Alonso to eighth and the final Sprint Race point. Lance Stroll was also handed a five-second penalty, but he was out of the points down in 13th.